Decision 2010: Cuomo vs. Paladino
HEMPSTEAD, NY - Seven gubernatorial candidates sparred in a 90-minute debate Monday night that didn't see any jabs between the Democratic and Republican nominees.
Republican Carl Paladino, a 64-year-old Buffalo businessman, railed against spending, the high tax burden New Yorkers face and the upstate region's job losses.
But he didn't directly engage the frontrunner, Democrat Andrew Cuomo, who he has tried to portray as an Albany insider who can't fix the state.
The debate also provided plenty of entertainment, with several of the minor-party candidates aiming barbs at the Republican and Democratic candidates who, in turn, largely ignored them.
Cuomo, meanwhile, repeated his platform of curtailing the growth of property taxes and reforming the state's ethics laws.
The televised debate held at Hofstra University on Long Island, featured Paladino and Cuomo alongside the five largely unknown minor-party candidates making their debut to many voters for the first time.
The debate was sponsored by News 12 and Newsday and was broadcast live on both television and radio.
Cuomo called the state's property tax burden "oppressive."
He promoted his plan to consolidate local governments, an initiative he backed during his four years as state attorney general.
"The state has to reduce what are called the unfunded mandates," Cuomo said. "Second, and bluntly, we just have too many governments in the state of New York. You have to consolidate those governments. You just can't keep turning on a printing press and going to the taxpayers and saying more money, more money, more money."
Cuomo also supports capping annual increases in property taxes at 2 percent.
Paladino, who said he would be open to a cap but supports an overall reduction in taxes, said a reduction would come with cuts to spending mandates on local governments for education and Medicaid.
"We have to deal with this problem and we have to deal with these two mandates and we have to deal with it now," Paladino said.
Paladino, a political neophyte, appeared unsure of himself during parts of the debate.
Asked a question about whether he supports gay marriage - an issue that recently tripped up his campaign when he made remarks critical of homosexuals earlier this month - did not seem ready at first to give the desired "yes" or "no" answer.
He said he was against gay marriage after being prodded by the program's moderators.
At another point, Paladino was unsure if he was being asked to give a rebuttal.
His campaign, including running mate Greg Edwards and campaign manager
Michael Caputo, sought to downplay expectations that Paladino would perform smoothly in the debate. The last debate he attended was a decade ago between Rep. Rick Lazio and Hillary Clinton, who were competing for a U.S. Senate seat, Caputo said.
But Paladino appeared to find his rhythm in the last half hour, pouncing on a question about the cost of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which provides commuter service in the New York City area.
"We have, without question, one big beast that keeps sucking out money," Paladino said, adding that he would turn the authority into a state agency under the governor's control and that he would seek to repeal a new commuter rail tax.
Paladino also said he would seek costs savings by doing away with agencies that he said were inherently political and pursue layoffs of state workers.
"If it's not necessary, we will get rid of it," Paladino said. "If it's broken, we will fix it."
In his closing statement, he rebuffed the notion that he was angry, but was passionate about helping the state.
The other candidates in the race took time to tweak Paladino and Cuomo, with several reeling off sound-bite friendly one-liners.
"Asking Carl Paladino and Andrew Cuomo to help us end corruption is like asking an arsonist to put out the fire," said Charles Barron, a New York City councilman running on the Freedom Party line.
Barron launched his candidacy partially over concerns that that the Democratic ticket was all white.
Kristin Davis, who is running on the Anti-Prohibition line and supports decriminalizing marijuana, is a former madam who claims to have supplied escorts to former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in the wake of a prostitution scandal.
"The career politicians are the biggest whores in the state," said Davis, who appeared to be reading off her notes for most of the debate. "I might be the only candidate who has the experience to deal with them."
Jimmy McMillan, who is running on a line called "Rent is 2 Damn High," largely stuck to that one issue Monday night.
"Some people say that I'm a one issue candidate, but it all boils down to one issue: The rent is too damn high," said McMillan, who wore black gloves during the debate and drew the biggest laughs from the crowd.
At one point, even Cuomo said, "I agree with Jimmy, the rent IS too damn high."
Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins said he would pursue a higher tax burden on the wealthy and end what he believes are corporate tax breaks.
"We can fund the services we need if the rich pay their fair share," he said.
Libertarian candidate Warren Redlich was critical of Paladino's debate performance.
"Clearly this showed he's not ready to be governor," he said.
Paladino had pushed to include all the candidates into the debate, saying that it was a way of "shaming" Cuomo to participate. Some supporters said the format did not serve Paladino or voters well and hoped for another debate.
Paladino, a favorite of the Tea Party movement, lags behind Cuomo in polls and fundraising. He has spent the campaign hammering Cuomo, claiming he is part of the Albany establishment. He also claimed Cuomo had extramarital affairs prior to a 2003 divorce, but has not produced any evidence.
None of those attacks he's previously aimed at Cuomo were on display Monday night.
Michael Long, the state Conservative Party chairman, said Paladino did well in the debate, but the format made it difficult for voters to hear their platforms.
"I don't think the setting, the debate setting, served the public that well because I don't think we got enough of the two major contenders," Long said.
State Republican Chairman Edward Cox also thought Paladino was capable for giving detailed answers but struggled with the 30 seconds for rebuttal.
"As a businessman, he's used to giving a lot of specifics," Cox said. "It was hard in this format for him to do."
Caputo, the Paladino campaign manager, said the Republican was able to effectively demonstrate his platform.
"He went up there to speak his mind and I think the people saw the real Paladino," Caputo said. "I'm going to have to look at the tapes, but I think Carl achieved whatever he was looking to accomplish tonight with or without the six other candidates."
Robert Duffy, the Rochester mayor and Democratic lieutenant governor candidate, said Cuomo did "a superb job."
"He maintained his decorum throughout and I think overall had the demeanor and countenance of a governor," Duffy said.
Duffy defended the debate and said it was fair to include all the candidates.
"Given the 90 minute timeframe and this whole format for the debate I think it was fair," Duffy said.
State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs said it was up to the campaigns to decide whether there should be another debate.
"I genuinely believe that everything that needed to be said by these candidates was said tonight," Jacobs said.
By NICK REISMAN, Gannett